Epistle Of Paul To The Romans
From Bible Encyclopedia
The Epistle to the Romans is one of the epistles, or letters, included in the New Testament canon of the Christian Bible. When it is clear that the Bible is being discussed, it is often referred to as simply "Romans". Romans is one of the thirteen undisputed letters of Paul and even among the four letters accepted as authentically his (in German scholarship, the Hauptbriefe) by F. C. Baur (Ferdinand Christian Baur) and the Tübingen School of historical criticism of texts in the 19th century.
It was probably written at Corinth or possibly in nearby Cenchrea, transcribed by Tertius. Phoebe (16:1) of Cenchrea, the Aegean port of Corinth, conveyed it to Rome, and Gaius of Corinth entertained the Apostle Paul at the time of his writing it (16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14), and Erastus was chamberlain of the city, that is, of Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20).
The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to "go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints", that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city (Romans 15:25; cf. Acts 19:21; Acts 20:2, Acts 20:3, Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4) early in 58.
Probably, Christianity was planted in Rome by some of those who had been at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). At this time the Jews were very numerous in Rome, and their synagogues were probably resorted to by Romans also, who in this way became acquainted with the story of Jesus as reported among the Jews. Thus a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles was formed at Rome. Many of the brethren went out to meet Paul on his approach to Rome. There are evidences that Christians were then in Rome in considerable numbers, and had probably more than one place of meeting (Romans 16:14, 15).
Purposes of writing
The purposes of the apostle in writing were fourfold and are articulated in the second half of chapter 15.
- Paul asks for prayers in his coming journey to Jerusalem and that the offering collected from the Gentile churches would be accepted there.
- Paul is planning to come to Rome from Jerusalem and spend some time there before moving on to Spain. He hopes the Roman church will support his mission to Spain.
- In that Paul has never been to Rome, he writes the letter to outline his gospel so that his teaching will not be confused by that of "false teachers".
- Paul is aware that there is some conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the Roman church, and he writes to address those concerns (chapters thirteen and the first half of fourteen). While the Roman church was presumably founded by Jewish Christians, the exile of Jews from Rome in 49 AD by Claudius resulted in Gentile Christians taking leadership positions. Upon the return of Jewish Christians after Claudius's death in AD 54, tensions resulted over the keeping of Biblical food laws and observance of High Holy Days.
The main theme of the letter is the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:16–17). Paul argues that all humanity is guilty and accountable to God for sin and that it is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that humanity can attain salvation. God is therefore both just and the one who justifies. In response to God's free, sovereign and graceful action of salvation, we can be justified by faith. Paul uses the example of Abraham to demonstrate that it is by faith not works that mankind can be seen as righteous before God.
Assurance of salvation
In chapters five through eight, Paul argues that believers can be assured of their hope in salvation, that believers have been freed from the bondage of sin. Paul states that, through faith (Romans 3:28, Romans 4:3), the faithful have been joined with Jesus (Romans 5:1) and freed from sin (Romans 6:1-2, Romans 6:18). Believers should celebrate in the assurance of salvation (Romans 12:12). This promise is open to everyone, as everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) and Jesus paid for all these sins (Romans 3:24).
In chapters nine through eleven, Paul addresses the faithfulness of God to Israel, wherein he says that God has been faithful to His promise. Paul hopes that all of Israel will come to realize the truth (Romans 9:1-5) since he himself was also an Israelite (Romans 11:1) and had in the past been a persecutor of Christ. In Romans 9-11 Paul talks about how the nation of Israel has been cast away, and the conditions under which Israel will be God's chosen nation again: when the Body of Christ (believers in Christ's payment for sin) stops being faithful (Romans 11:19-22).
The gospel transforms believers
In Romans 7:1, Paul tells us that humans are under the law while we live: "Know ye not... that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?" However, Jesus' death on the cross makes believers dead to the law (Romans 7:4, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye are also become dead to the law by the body of Christ").
In chapter 12 through the first part of chapter 15, Paul outlines how the gospel transforms believers and the behaviour that results from such a transformation. He goes on to tell us how believers should live: not under the law, but under the grace of God. If believers live by what the Bible says (Romans 12:9-21, Romans 13:8-10) and love everybody, study the scriptures (and share them with others), believers are not going to need to sin. As Paul says in Romans 13:10, "love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of law".
Paul is not telling believers that love is all that matters: without first accepting Christ's gift (Romans 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus", and Romans 5:1: "being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"), everyone is still under the bondage of sin (Romans 5:12-17: "and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned") and cannot experience that true love.
The concluding verses contain a description of his travel plans and personal greetings salutations. One-third of the twenty-one Christians identified in the greetings are women, an indication that women played an important role in the early church at Rome.
Paul sometimes uses a style of writing common in his time called a "diatribe". He appears to be responding to a "heckler", and the letter is structured as a series of arguments. The letter is addressed to the church at Rome which consisted of both Gentile and Jewish Christians. In the flow of the letter, Paul shifts his arguments, sometimes addressing the Jewish members of the church, sometimes the Gentile membership, and sometimes the church as a whole.
Protestant understanding of the text
Paul's letter to Rome is a rich, textured articulation of the gospel from which many of the doctrines of the church have made their foundation.
Martin Luther described Romans as "the chief book of the New Testament . . . it deserves to be known by heart, word for word, by every Christian."
The "Romans Road" refers to a set of scriptures from the book of Romans that Christian evangelists use to present a clear and simple case for personal salvation for each person. They are:
"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."
"The wages of sin is death."
"But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
"God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us!"
Romans 10:9, 10
"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
"Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved!"
The Book of Romans has been at the forefront of several major movements in Protestantism. Martin Luther's lectures on Romans in 1515-16 were probably the crucial moment in which he developed his criticism of Catholicism which led to the 95 Theses of 1517, signalling the start of the Protestant Reformation. In 1738, while reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, John Wesley famously felt his heart "strangely warmed", a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism. In 1919, Karl Barth's commentary on Romans was the publication which is widely seen as the beginning of neo-orthodoxy.
Catholic understanding of the text
Catholics accept the necessity of faith for salvation, but point to Romans 2:5-11 for the necessity of living a virtuous life as well:
- Who [God] will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.
Those who argue against this (many Christians) point out that God will bring wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey "the truth", indicating that they're not believers anyway. They also point out Romans 4:2-5: "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted unto him for righteousness." They point out that these verses specifically down-play the importance of actions in regard to salvation and righteousness in God's eyes.
They also point out that in Romans 2, Paul tells us that God will reward those who follow the law (as opposed to antinomianism) and then goes on to say that no one follows the law perfectly (see also Interpretation). Romans 2:21-25:
- Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
This epistle was probably written at Corinth. Phoebe (Romans 16:1) of Cenchrea conveyed it to Rome, and Gaius of Corinth entertained the apostle at the time of his writing it (Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14), and Erastus was chamberlain of the city, i.e., of Corinth (2 Timothy 4:20).
The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the apostle was about to “go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints”, i.e., at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city (Romans 15:25; compare Acts 19:21; Acts 20:2, Acts 20:3, Acts 20:16; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), early in A.D. 58.
It is highly probable that Christianity was planted in Rome by some of those who had been at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). At this time the Jews were very numerous in Rome, and their synagogues were probably resorted to by Romans also, who in this way became acquainted with the great facts regarding Jesus as these were reported among the Jews. Thus a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles was formed at Rome. Many of the brethren went out to meet Paul on his approach to Rome. There are evidences that Christians were then in Rome in considerable numbers, and had probably more than one place of meeting (Romans 16:14, Romans 16:15).
The object of the apostle in writing to this church was to explain to them the great doctrines of the gospel. His epistle was a “word in season.” Himself deeply impressed with a sense of the value of the doctrines of salvation, he opens up in a clear and connected form the whole system of the gospel in its relation both to Jew and Gentile. This epistle is peculiar in this, that it is a systematic exposition of the gospel of universal application. The subject is here treated argumentatively, and is a plea for Gentiles addressed to Jews. In the Epistle to the Galatians, the same subject is discussed, but there the apostle pleads his own authority, because the church in Galatia had been founded by him.
After the introduction (Romans 1:1-15), the apostle presents in it divers aspects and relations the doctrine of justification by faith (Romans 1:16-11:36) on the ground of the imputed righteousness of Christ. He shows that salvation is all of grace, and only of grace. This main section of his letter is followed by various practical exhortations (Romans 12:1 - 15:13), which are followed by a conclusion containing personal explanations and salutations, which contain the names of twenty-four Christians at Rome, a benediction, and a doxology (Romans 15:14-16).
This is the greatest, in every sense, of the apostolic letters of Paul; in scale, in scope, and in its wonderful combination of doctrinal, ethical and administrative wisdom and power. In some respects the later Epistles, Ephesians and Colossians, lead us to even higher and deeper arcana of revelation, and they, like Romans, combine with the exposition of truth a luminous doctrine of duty. But the range of Roman is larger in both directions, and presents us also with noble and far-reaching discussions of Christian polity, instructions in spiritual utterance and the like, to which those Epistles present no parallel, and which only the Corinthian Epistles rival.
1. Its Genuineness:
No suspicion on the head of the genuineness of the Epistle exists which needs serious consideration. Signs of the influence of the Epistle can be traced, at least very probably, in the New Testament itself; in 1 Peter, and, as some think, in James. But in our opinion Jas was the earlier writing, and Lightfoot has given strong grounds for the belief that the paragraph on faith and justification (Jas 2) has no reference to perversions of Pauline teaching, but deals with rabbinism. Clement of Rome repeatedly quotes Romans, and so do Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin. Marcion includes it in his list of Pauline Epistles, and it is safe to say in general Romans “has been recognized in the Christian church as long as any collection of Paul's Epistles has been extant” (A. Robertson, in HDB, under the word). But above all other evidences it testifies to itself. The fabrication of such a writing, with its close and complex thought, its power and marked originality of treatment, its noble morale, and its spiritual elevation and ardor, is nothing short of a moral impossibility. A mighty mind and equally great heart live in every page, and a soul exquisitely sensitive and always intent upon truth and holiness. Literary personation is an art which has come to anything like maturity only in modern times, certainly not before the Renaissance. In a fully developed form it is hardly earlier than the 19th century. And even now who can point to a consciously personated authorship going along with high moral principle and purpose?
2. Its Integrity:
The question remains, however, whether, accepting the Epistle in block as Pauline, we have it, as to details, just as it left the author's hands. Particularly, some phenomena of the text of the last two chapter invite the inquiry. We may - in our opinion we must - grant those chapters to be Pauline. They breathe Paul in every sentence. But do they read precisely like part of a letter to Rome? For example, we have a series of names (Romans 16:1-15), representing a large circle of personally known and loved friends of the writer, a much longer list than any other in the Epistles, and all presumably - on theory that the passage is integral to the Epistle - residents at Rome. May not such a paragraph have somehow crept in, after date, from another writing? Might not a message to Philippian, Thessalonian or Ephesian friends, dwellers in places where Paul had already established many intimacies, have fallen out of its place and found lodgment by mistake at the close of this letter to Rome? It seems enough to reply by one brief statement of fact. We possess some 300 manuscripts of Romans, and not one of these, so far as it is uninjured, fails to give the Epistle complete, all the chapters as we have them, and in the present order (with one exception, that of the final doxology). It is observable meanwhile that the difficulty of supposing Paul to have had a large group of friends living at Rome, before his own arrival there, is not serious. To and from Rome, through the whole empire, there was a perpetual circulation of population. Suppose Aquila and Priscilla (e.g.) to have recently returned (Acts 18:2) to Rome from Ephesus, and suppose similar migrations from Greece or from Asia Minor to have taken place within recent years; we can then readily account for the greetings of Rom 16.
Lightfoot has brought it out in an interesting way (see his Philippians, on Philippians 4:22) that many of the names (e.g. Amplias, Urbanus, Tryphena) in Romans 16 are found at Rome, in inscriptions of the early imperial age, in cemeteries where members of the widely scattered “household of Caesar” were interred. This at least suggests the abundant possibility that the converts and friends belonging to the “household” who, a very few years later, perhaps not more than three, were around him at Rome when he wrote to Philippi (Philippians 4:22), and sent their special greeting (“chiefly they”) to the Philipplans, were formerly residents at Philippi, or elsewhere in Macedonia, and had moved thence to the capital not long before the apostle wrote to the Romans. A. Robertson (ut supra) comes to the conclusion, after a careful review of recent theories, “that the case for transferring this section ... from its actual connection to a lost Epistle to Ephesus is not made out.”
Two points of detail in the criticism of the text of Romans may be noted. One is that the words “at Rome” (Romans 1:7, Romans 1:15) are omitted in a very few manuscripts, in a way to remind us of the interesting phenomenon of the omission of “at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1 margin). But the evidence for this omission being original is entirely inadequate. The fact may perhaps be accounted for by a possible circulation of Romans among other mission churches as an Epistle of universal interest. This would be much more likely if the manuscripts and other authorities in which the last two chapters are missing were identical with those which omit “at Rome,” but this is not the case.
The other and larger detail is that the great final doxology (Romans 16:25-27) is placed by many cursives at the end of Romans 14, and is omitted entirely by three manuscripts and by Marcion. The leading uncials and a large preponderance of ancient evidence place it where we have it. It is quite possible that Paul may have reissued Romans after a time, and may only then have added the doxology, which has a certain resemblance in manner to his later (captivity) style. But it is at least likely that dogmatic objections led Marcion to delete it, and that his action accounts for the other phenomena which seem to witness against its place at the finale.
It is worth noting that Hort, a singularly fearless, while sober student, defends without reserve the entirety of the Epistle as we have it, or practically so. See his essay printed in Lightfoot's Biblical Studies.
3. The Approximate Date:
We can fix the approximate date with fair certainty within reasonable limits. We gather from Romans 15:19 that Paul, when he wrote, was in the act of closing his work in the East and was looking definitely westward. But he was first about (Romans 15:25, Romans 15:26) to revisit Jerusalem with his collection, mainly made in Macedonia and Achaia, for the “poor saints.” Placing these allusions side by side with the references in 1 and 2 Corinthians to the collection and its conveyance, and again with the narrative of Acts, we may date Romans very nearly at the same time as 2 Corinthians, just before the visit to Jerusalem narrated in Acts 20, etc. The year may be fixed with great probability as 58 AD. This estimate follows the lines of Lightfoot's chronology, which Robertson (ut supra) supports. More recent schemes would move the date back to 56 AD.
“The reader's attention is invited to this date. Broadly speaking, it was about 30 years at the most after the Crucifixion. Let anyone in middle life reflect on the freshness in memory of events, whether public or private, which 30 years ago made any marked impression on his mind. Let him consider how concrete and vivid still are the prominent personages of 30 years ago, many of whom of course are still with us. And let him transfer this thought to the 1st century, and to the time of our Epistle. Let him remember that we have at least this one great Christian writing composed, for certain, within such easy reach of the very lifetime of Jesus Christ when His contemporary friends were still, in numbers, alive and active. Then let him open the Epistle afresh, and read, as if for the first time, its estimate of Jesus Christ - a Figure then of no legendary past, with its halo, but of the all but present day. Let him note that this transcendent estimate comes to us conveyed in the vehicle not of poetry and rhetoric, but of a treatise pregnant with masterly argument and admirable practical wisdom, tolerant and comprehensive. And we think that the reader will feel that the result of his meditations on date and circumstances is reassuring as to the solidity of the historic basis of the Christian faith” (from the present writer's introduction to the Epistle in the Temple Bible; see also his Light from the First Days: Short Studies in 1 Thessalonians).
4. The Place of Writing:
With confidence we may name Corinth as the place of writing. Paul was at the time in some “city” (Romans 16:23). He was staying with one Gaius, or Caius (same place) , and we find in 1 Corinthians 1:14 a Gaius, closely connected with Paul, and a Corinthian. He commends to the Romans the deaconess Phoebe, attached to “the church at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1), presumably a place near that from which he was writing; and Cenchrea was the southern part of Corinth.
5. The Destination:
The first advent of Christianity to Rome is unrecorded, and we know very little of its early progress. Visiting Romans (ἐπιδημοῦντες, epidēmoúntes), both Jews and proselytes, appear at Pentecost (Acts 2:10), and no doubt some of these returned home believers. In Acts 18:2 we have Aquila and Priscilla, Jews, evidently Christians, “lately come from Italy,” and probably from Rome. But we know practically nothing else of the story previous to this Epistle, which is addressed to a mission church obviously important and already spiritually advanced. On the other hand (a curious paradox in view of the historical development of Roman Christianity), there is no allusion in the Epistle to church organization. The Christian ministry (apart from Paul's own apostleship) is not even mentioned. It may fairly be said to be incredible that if the legend of Peter's long episcopate were historical, no allusion whatever to his work, influence and authority should be made. It is at least extremely difficult to prove that he was even present in Rome till shortly before his martyrdom, and the very ancient belief that Peter and Paul founded the Roman church is more likely to have had its origin in their martyrdoms there than in Peter's having in any sense shared in the early evangelization of the city.
As to Rome itself, we may picture it at the date of the Epistle as containing, with its suburbs, a closely massed population of perhaps 800,000 people; a motley host of many races, with a strong oriental element, among which the Jews were present as a marked influence, despised and sometimes dreaded, but always attracting curiosity.
6. The Language:
The Epistle was written in Greek, the “common dialect,” the Greek of universal intercourse of that age. One naturally asks, why not in Latin, when the message was addressed to the supreme Latin city? The large majority of Christian converts beyond doubt came from the lower middle and lowest classes, not least from the slave class. These strata of society were supplied greatly from immigrants, much as in parts of East London now aliens make the main population. Not Latin but Greek, then lingua franca of the Mediterranean, would be the daily speech of these people. It is remarkable that all the early Roman bishops bear Greek names. And some 40 years after the date of this Epistle we find Clement of Rome writing in Greek to the Corinthians, and later again, early in the 2nd century, Ignatius writing in Greek to the Romans.
7. The Occasion:
We cannot specify the occasion of writing for certain. No hint appears of any acute crisis in the mission (as when 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, or Colossians were written). Nor would personal reminiscences influence the writer, for he had not yet seen Rome. We can only suggest some possibilities as follows:
(1) A good opportunity for safe communication was offered by the deaconess Phoebe's proposed visit to the metropolis. She doubtless asked Paul for a commendatory letter, and this may have suggested an extended message to the church.
(2) Paul's thoughts had long gone toward Rome. See Acts 19:21 : “I must see Rome,” words which seem perhaps to imply some divine intimation (compare Acts 23:11). And his own life-course would fall in with such a supernatural call. He had always aimed at large centers; and now his great work in the central places of the Levant was closing; he had worked at Ephesus, Thessalonica, Corinth; he was at last to think of the supreme center of all. Rome must always have had a dominant interest for the “Apostle of the Nations,” and any suggestion that his Lord's will tended that way would intensify it to the highest degree.
(3) The form of the Epistle may throw further light on the occasion. The document falls, on the whole, into three parts. First we have Romans 1 through 8 inclusive, a prolonged exposition of the contrasted and related phenomena of sin and salvation, with special initial references to the cases of Jew and non-Jew respectively. Then come Romans 9 through 11, which deal with the Jewish rejection of the Jewish Messiah, developing into a prophetic revelation of the future of Israel in the grace of God. Lastly we have Romans 12 through 16. Some account of the writer's plans, and his salutations to friends, requests for prayer, etc., form the close of this section. But it is mainly a statement of Christian duty in common life, personal, civil, religious. Under the latter head we have a noble treatment of problems raised by varying opinions, particularly on religious observances, among the converts, Jew and Gentile.
Such phenomena cast a possible light on the occasion of writing. The Roman mission was on one side, by its locality and surroundings, eminently gentile. On the other, there was, as we have seen, a strong Judaic element in Roman life, particularly in its lower strata, and no doubt around the Jewish community proper there had grown up a large community of “worshippers” (σεβόμενοι, sebómenoi) or, as we commonly call them, “proselytes” (“adherents,” in the language of modern missionary enterprise), people who, without receiving circumcision, attended Jewish worship and shared largely in Jewish beliefs and ideals. Among these proselytes, we may believe, the earliest evangelists at Rome found a favorable field, and the mission church as Paul knew of it contained accordingly not only two definite classes, converts from paganism, converts from native Judaism, but very many in whose minds both traditions were working at once. To such converts the problems raised by Judaism, both without and within the church, would come home with a constant intimacy and force, and their case may well have been present in a special degree in the apostle's mind alike in the early passages (Romans 1 through 3) of the Epistle and in such later parts as Romans 2 through 11; 14; 15. On the one hand they would greatly need guidance on the significance of the past of Israel and on the destiny of the chosen race in the future. Moreover, discussions in such circles over the way of salvation would suggest to the great missionary his exposition of man's reconciliation with a holy God and of His secrets for purity and obedience in an unholy world. And meanwhile the ever-recurring problems raised by ceremonial rules in common daily life - problems of days and seasons, and of forbidden food - would, for such disciples, need wise and equitable treatment.
(4) Was it not with this position before him, known to him through the many means of communication between Rome and Corinth, that Paul cast his letter into this form? And did not the realization of the central greatness of Rome suggest its ample scale? The result was a writing which shows everywhere his sense of the presence of the Judaic problem. Here he meets it by a statement, massive and tender, of “heaven's easy, artless, unencumbered plan” of redemption, grace, and glory, a plan which on its other side is the very mystery of the love of God, which statement is now and forever a primary treasure of the Christian faith. And then again he lays down for the too eager champions of the new “liberty” a law of loving tolerance toward slower and narrower views which is equally our permanent spiritual possession, bearing a significance far-reaching and benign.
(5) It has been held by some great students, notably Lightfoot and Hort, that the main purpose of Romans was to reconcile the opposing “schools” in the church, and that its exposition of the salvation of the individual is secondary only. The present writer cannot take this view. Read the Epistle from its spiritual center, so to speak, and is not the perspective very different? The apostle is always conscious of the collective aspect of the Christian life, an aspect vital to its full health. But is he not giving his deepest thought, animated by his own experience of conviction and conversion, to the sinful man's relation to eternal law, to redeeming grace, and to a coming glory? It is the question of personal salvation which with Paul seems to us to live and move always in the depth of his argument, even when Christian polity and policy is the immediate theme.
8. Some Characteristics:
Excepting only Ephesians (the problem of the authorship of which is insoluble, and we put that great document here aside), Romans is, of all Paul has written, least a letter and most a treatise. He is seen, as we read, to approach religious problems of the highest order in a free but reasoned succession; problems of the darkness and of the light, of sin and grace, fall and restoration, doom and remission, faith and obedience, suffering and glory, transcendent hope and humblest duty, now in their relation to the soul, now so as to develop the holy collectivity of the common life. The Roman converts are always first in view, but such is the writer, such his handling, that the results are for the universal church and for every believer of all time. Yet all the while (and it is in this a splendid example of that epistolary method of revelation which is one of the glories of the New Testament) it is never for a moment the mere treatise, however great. The writer is always vividly personal, and conscious of persons. The Epistle is indeed a masterpiece of doctrine, but also always “the unforced, unartificial utterance of a friend to friends.”
9. Main Teachings of the Epistle:
Approaching the Epistle as a treatise rather than a letter (with the considerable reserves just stated), we indicate briefly some of its main doctrinal deliverances. Obviously, in limine, it is not set before us as a complete system either of theology or of morals; to obtain a full view of a Pauline dogma and ethics we must certainly place Ephesians and Colossians, not to speak of passages from Thessalonians, beside Romans. But it makes by far the nearest approach to doctrinal completeness among the Epistles.
(1) Doctrine of Man.
In great measure this resolves itself into the doctrine of man as a sinner, as being guilty in face of an absolutely holy and absolutely imperative law, whether announced by abnormal revelation, as to the Jew, or through nature and conscience only, as to the Gentile. At the back of this presentation lies the full recognition that man is cognizant, as a spiritual being, of the eternal difference of right and wrong, and of the witness of creation to personal “eternal power and Godhead” as its cause, and that he is responsible in an awe-inspiring way for his unfaithfulness to such cognitions. He is a being great enough to be in personal moral relation with God, and able to realize his ideal only in true relation with Him; therefore a being whose sin and guilt have an unfathomable evil in them. So is he bound by his own failure that he cannot restore himself; God alone, in sovereign mercy, provides for his pardon by the propitiation of Christ, and for his restoration by union with Christ in the life given by the Holy Spirit. Such is man, once restored, once become “a saint” (a being hallowed), a “son of God” by adoption and grace, that his final glorification will be the signal (in some sense the cause?) of a transfiguration of the whole finite universe. Meanwhile, man is a being actually in the midst of a life of duty and trial, a member of civil society, with obligations to its order. He lives not in a God-forsaken world, belonging only to another and evil power. His new life, the “mind of the Spirit” in him, is to show itself in a conduct and character good for the state and for society at large, as well as for the “brotherhood.”
(2) Doctrine of God.
True to the revelation of the Old Testament, Paul presents God as absolute in will and power, so that He is not only the sole author of nature but the eternal and ultimately sole cause of goodness in man. To Him in the last resort all is due, not only the provision of atonement but the power and will to embrace it. The great passages which set before us a “fore-defining” (προόρισις, proórisis, “predestination”) and election of the saints are all evidently inspired by this motive, the jealous resolve to trace to the one true Cause all motions and actions of good. The apostle seems e.g. almost to risk affirming a sovereign causation of the opposite, of unbelief and its sequel. But patient study will find that it is not so. God is not said to “fit for ruin” the “vessels of wrath.” Their woeful end is overruled to His glory, but nowhere is it taken to be caused by Him. All along the writer's intense purpose is to constrain the actual believer to see the whole causation of his salvation in the will and power of Him whose inmost character is revealed in the supreme fact that, “for us all,” “he spared not his Son.”
(3) Doctrine of Son of God - Redemption; Justification.
The Epistle affords materials for a magnificently large Christology. The relation of the Son to creation is indeed not expounded in terms (as in Col), but it is implied in the language of Romans 8, where the interrelation of our redemption and the transfiguration of Nature is dealt with. We have the Lord's manhood fully recognized, while His Godhead (as we read in Romans 9:5; so too Robertson, ut supra) is stated in terms, and it is most certainly implied in the language and tone of e.g. the close of Romans 8. Who but a bearer of the Supreme Nature could satisfy the conception indicated in such words as those of Romans 8:32, Romans 8:35-39, coming as they do from a Hebrew monotheist of intense convictions? Meantime this transcendent Person has so put Himself in relation with us, as the willing worker of the Father's purpose of love, that He is the sacrifice of peace for us (Romans 3), our “propitiatory” One (ἱλαστήριον, hilastḗrion, is now known to be an adjective), such that (whatever the mystery, which leaves the fact no less certain) the man who believes on Him, i.e. (as Romans 4 fully demonstrates) relies on Him, gives himself over to His mercy, is not only forgiven but “justified,” “justified by faith.” And “justification” is more than forgiveness; it is not merely the remission of a penalty but a welcome to the offender, pronounced to be lawfully at peace with the eternal holiness and love.
In closest connection with this message of justification is the teaching regarding union with the Christ who has procured the justification. This is rather assumed than expounded in Romans (we have the exposition more explicitly in Eph, Col, and Gal), but the assumption is present wherever the pregnant phrase “in Christ” is used. Union is, for Paul, the central doctrine of all, giving life and relation to the whole range. As Lightfoot has well said (Sermons in Paul's, number 16), he is the apostle not primarily of justification, or of liberty, great as these truths are with him, but of union with Christ. It is through union that justification is ours; the merits of the Head are for the member. It is through union that spiritual liberty and power are ours; the Spirit of life is from the Head to the member. Held by grace in this profound and multiplex connection, where life, love and law are interlaced, the Christian is entitled to an assurance full of joy that nothing shall separate him, soul and (ultimately) body, from his once sacrificed and now risen and triumphant Lord.
(4) Doctrine of the Spirit of God.
No writing of the [New Testament]] but John's Gospel is so full upon this great theme as Romans 8 may be said to be the locus classicus in the Epistles for the work of the Holy Ghost in the believer. By implication it reveals personality as well as power (see especially Romans 8:26). Note particularly the place of this great passage, in which revelation and profoundest conditions run continually into each other. It follows Romans 7, in which the apostle depicts, in terms of his own profound and typical experience, the struggles of conscience and will over the awful problem of the “bondage” of indwelling sin. If we interpret the passage aright, the case supposed is that of a regenerate man, who, however, attempts the struggle against inward evil armed, as to consciousness, with his own faculties merely, and finds the struggle insupportable. Then comes in the divine solution, the promised Spirit of life and liberty, welcomed and put into use by the man who has found his own resources yam. “In Christ Jesus,” in union with Him, he “by the Spirit does to death the practices of the body,” and rises through conscious liberty into an exulting hope of “the liberty of the glory of the sons of God” - not so, however as to know nothing of “groaning within himself,” while yet in the body; but it is a groan which leaves intact the sense of sonship and divine love, and the expectation of a final completeness of redemption.
(5) Doctrine of Duty.
While the Epistle is eminently a message of salvation, it is also, in vital connection with this, a treasury of principle and precept for the life of duty. It does indeed lay down the sovereign freedom of our acceptance for Christ's sake alone, and so absolutely that (Romans 6:1, Romans 6:2, Romans 6:15) the writer anticipates the inference (by foes, or by mistaken friends), “Let us continue in sin.” But the answer comes instantly, and mainly through the doctrine of union. Our pardon is not an isolated fact. Secured only by Christ's sacrifice, received only by the faith which receives Him as our all, it is ipso facto never received alone but with all His other gifts, for it becomes ours as we receive, not merely one truth about Him, but Him. Therefore, we receive His Life as our true life; and it is morally unthinkable that we can receive this and express it in sin. This assumed, the Epistle (Romans 12 and onward) lays down with much detail and in admirable application large ranges of the law of duty, civil, social, personal, embracing duties to the state, loyalty to its laws, payment of its taxes, recognition of the sacredness of political order, even ministered by pagans; and also duties to society and the church, including a large and loving tolerance even in religious matters, and a response to every call of the law of unselfish love. However we can or cannot adjust mentally the two sides, that of a supremely free salvation and that of an inexorable responsibility, there the two sides are, in the Pauline message. And reason and faith combine to assure us that both sides are eternally true, “antinomies” whose harmony will be explained hereafter in a higher life, but which are to be lived out here concurrently by the true disciple, assured of their ultimate oneness of source in the eternal love.
(6) Doctrine of Israel.
Very briefly we touch on this department of the message of Romans, mainly to point out that the problem of Israel's unbelief nowhere else in Paul appears as so heavy a load on his heart, and that on the other hand we nowhere else have anything like the light he claims to throw (Romans 11) on Israel's future. Here, if anywhere, he appears as the predictive prophet, charged with the statement of a “mystery,” and with the announcement of its issues. The promises to Israel have never failed, nor are they canceled. At the worst, they have always been inherited by a chosen remnant, Israel within Israel. And a time is coming when, in a profound connection with Messianic blessing on the Gentiles, “all Israel shall be saved,” with a salvation which shall in turn be new life to the world outside Israel. Throughout the passage Paul speaks, not as one who “will not give up a hope,” but as having had revealed to him a vast and definite prospect, in the divine purpose.
It is not possible in our present space to work out other lines of the message of Romans. Perhaps enough has been done to stimulate the reader's own inquiries.
Of the Fathers, Chrysostom and Augustine are pre-eminent as interpreters of Romans: Chrysostom in his expository Homilies, models of eloquent and illuminating discourse, full of “sanctified common sense,” while not perfectly appreciative of the inmost doctrinal characteristics; Augustine, not in any continuous comm., but in his anti-Pelagian writings, which show the sympathetic intensity of his study of the doctrine of the Epistle, not so much on justification as on grace and the will. Of the Reformers, Calvin is eminently the great commentator, almost modern in his constant aim to ascertain the sacred writer's meaning by open-eyed inference direct from the words. On Romans he is at his best; and it is remarkable that on certain leading passages where grace is theme he is much less rigidly “Calvinistic” than some of his followers. In modern times, the not learned but masterly exposition of Robert Haldane (circa 1830) claims mention, and the eloquent and highly suggestive expository lectures (about the same date) of Thomas Chalmers. H. A. W. Meyer (5th edition, 1872, English translation 1873-1874) among the Germans is excellent for carefulness and insight; Godet (1879, English translation 1881) equally so among French-writing divines; of late English interpreters I. A. Beet (1877, many revisions), Sanday and Headlam (1895, in the” International” series) and E. H. Gifford (admirable for scholarship and exposition; his work was printed first in the Speaker's (Bible) Comm., 1881, now separately) claim particular mention. J. Denney writes on Romans in The Expositor's Greek Test. (1900).
Luther's lectures on Romans, delivered in 1516-1517 and long supposed lost, have been recovered and were published by J. Ficker in 1908. Among modern German commentators, the most important is B. Weiss in the later revisions of the Meyer series (9th edition, 1899), while a very elaborate commentary has been produced by Zahn in his own series (1910). Briefer are the works of Lipsius (Hand-Kommentar, 2nd edition, 1892, very scholarly and suggestive); Lietzmann (Handbuch zum NT, interest chiefly linguistic), and Julicher (in J. Weiss, Schriften des NTs, 2nd edition, 1908, an intensely able piece of popular exposition).
A. E. Garvie has written a brilliant little commentary in the “(New) Century” series (no date); that of R. John Parry in the Cambridge Greek Testament, 1913, is more popular, despite its use of the Greek text. F. B. Westcott's Paul and Justification, 1913, contains a close grammatical study with an excellent paraphrase.
The writer may be allowed to name his short commentary (1879) in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and a fuller one, in a more homiletic style, in the Expositor's Bible, 1894.